Benilde University Students Slam Gallery Director For Promoting “Campus Militarization”
By Ophelia Lai and Dominic Zinampan
Students at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (CSB) in Manila have rallied against “campus militarization” after the director of the university’s Center for Campus Art (CCA), Gerry Torres, suggested a potential collaboration between the university and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in a post on his public Facebook account.
The now-deleted post from October 10 included a photo of Torres posing with an AFP colonel in the latter’s office, with the message: “Thank you for the warm welcome AFP Secretary Joint Staff Col Eugene Osias IV, my good friend Mrs Tin Osias and family! Looking forward to possible projects with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde!”
The multidisciplinary artist-activist collective Panday Sining CSB responded by launching a petition to “Keep AFP out of our school,” decrying “the heightened militarization of civilian areas” during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as “the rampant human rights violations and red-tagging that the AFP has engaged in.” The collective stress that although Torres subsequently confirmed “no conclusive agreement was made between the CCA and the AFP,” it is against university policy to “allow military elements, and/or police into the school campus and to interfere with student activities . . . except in cases of local emergencies.” Any potential collaboration with the military is especially concerning when “the threat of state surveillance and repression at this time is very real.” The petition concludes by demanding that the CSB administration prevent any collaboration with the military or police; uphold academic freedom; and address “the legitimate grievances and concerns of the entire student body and community.”
The Benilde Central Student Government joined in censuring Torres for his post, elaborating on the abuses of the AFP and requesting an official response from the CSB administration clarifying the situation. The student organization characterized Torres’s suggestion of a partnership with the military as “ironic” and insensitive to the persecution of Indigenous peoples by the AFP, noting that the university’s School of Design and Arts (SDA) is home to Archie Oclos’s Bakwit (2019), the largest mural in the Philippines, dedicated to the displaced Lumad Indigenous community. The statement continues: “The Center for Campus Art (CCA) has always been a bastion of representing the different struggles that our generation faces. Its thematic exhibits on [filmmaker Lino Brocka and plastic waste], and the Lumad mural in SDA depict narratives on resistance towards state oppression, protection of our natural resources, and the effect of state abuse. The possibility of future projects with AFP is antithetical to the good work that the CCA has begun.”
In solidarity with the student groups, nine artists who had been invited by Torres to contribute zines to the group exhibition “The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus” withdrew from the project.
Academia has come under repeated attacks under Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. In October 2018, AFP chief of staff General Carlito Galvez accused ten universities of being recruiting grounds for the Communist Party of the Philippines and harboring insurgents involved in a plot to overthrow the president. University officials, students, and organizations hit back at the unproven allegations, criticizing the AFP for its campaign of intimidation and surveillance against academia and others deemed a threat to the Duterte regime. Carl Ramota, president of the University of the Philippines’ All UP Academic Employees Union, suggested a review of the AFP’s intelligence budget, stating: “AFP’s limitless funds for fictional writing and storytelling could have been spent on actual learning of Filipino students.”
Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.
Dominic Zinampan is a contributor to ArtAsiaPacific.
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